Litigation

I’ve finally plucked “big firm mediocre” out of my life.

First, I left Biglaw, so I’m no longer revising lifeless drafts that arrive either up through the ranks or from co-counsel.

Then, my corporation entered fixed fee deals for virtually all of its litigation work. We invited only firms that do good work to compete for our business, and the winners have performed as expected: No brief arrives at our doorstep until it’s been reviewed by someone who can write.

But we still have a few strays: There are cases in oddball jurisdictions or involving unusual specialties where we select counsel on an individualized basis. And we still have old cases lingering from before our fixed-fee days staffed by an assortment of counsel. Once in a long while, I still run into briefs written in the “big firm mediocre” style.

What’s funny is how consistent it is. Although the briefs address different subjects in different jurisdictions, and they’re written by different people, “big firm mediocre” constitutes its own distinct literary genre. Care to write in that genre (or assess whether you already do)? Here are the characteristics:

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Unlike the latest Harmony Korine movie, filled with neon bikinis, former Disney princesses. and James Franco in bad dreads, my Spring Break consists of hanging with my kids while my wife works 24/7 on a grant application. We don’t make annual pilgrimages to Turks and Caicos; we make bi-weekly trips to Wegmans. But you know what? I signed on for this, and no amount of island sand can replace the sound of my younger boy reading a bedtime story to his little sister for the first time last night.

I read with interest the compensation package for the anonymous in-houser that Lat posted yesterday. In the comments, I pointed out that the package wasn’t outrageous or impossible, just that it was (way) outside of the norm. And that is okay. I chose this life and I am happy to say that it has been a soft landing for me. I have a good job, in a real estate market that is hard to beat — anywhere.

Lat is correct that Susan, Mark and I need to be circumspect about compensation; it would not do for our employers to see a pay scale pasted on these pages. So what can I say about my comp?

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In Old School, when Mitch, Frank, and Beanie tied string to cinderblocks and their prospective members’ members before throwing the blocks off the roof, their fraternity gravely injured a pledge. While Weensie ended up just fine in the film, fraternities across the country cause injuries and even deaths with some frequency.

If someone is negligently or intentionally injured by a multi-million dollar organization, one would expect to see a lawsuit followed by a quiet, insurance-funded settlement.

But fraternities don’t roll like that, bro…

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Patricia A. Martone

“You can’t eat the orange and throw the peel away — a man is not a piece of fruit.”

– Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman (affiliate link)

Take this famous line and replace “man” with “law firm partner,” and you’ve captured the gist of the lawsuit against Ropes & Gray brought by Patricia Martone, who alleges age and sex discrimination by her former firm. (Martone, a former IP litigation partner at Ropes, is now a Morrison & Foerster partner.)

When I broke the news of this lawsuit back in 2011, I expected a speedy settlement. Would Ropes really want to go toe to toe with a pair of high-powered litigatrices, namely, Martone and her formidable employment lawyer, Anne Vladeck?

But here we are, two years later, and the battle rages on. Ropes has hired a third leading litigatrix to defend itself. Let’s learn the latest news….

(Note the multiple UPDATES at the end of this post.)

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Stanley M. Chesley

Has the “master of disaster” been mastered by disaster? Has a class-action king been stripped of his crown?

It would seem so. One of the nation’s most famous and successful plaintiffs’ lawyers, Stanley M. Chesley, just got disbarred.

Cue the schadenfreude. We heard about the news from numerous tipsters. “Time to downgrade your Maybach and jet,” gloated one.

What makes it even better, of course, is that Stan Chesley is married to a federal judge, the Honorable Susan J. Dlott (S.D. Ohio). What’s that old saying about Caesar’s wife?

So what got this high-flying class-action lawyer grounded? Hint: it’s all about the benjamins….

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Ted Olson and David Boies: adversaries, then allies, then adversaries again.

After covering the Dewey & LeBoeuf bankruptcy hearing on Wednesday morning, I walked a few blocks uptown to the Second Circuit for another exciting event: oral argument in the closely watched Argentina bondholder litigation. It was a Biglaw battle royal, pitting Ted Olson, the former solicitor general and current Gibson Dunn partner, against a tag team of top lawyers that included David Boies, Olson’s adversary in Bush v. Gore (and ally in Hollingsworth v. Perry).

Here’s my account of the proceedings, including photos….

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Earlier this week, we wrote about a pair of prominent partners at Skadden Arps who got hit with a big-time benchslap. A federal judge in Chicago issued an order to show cause, requiring the Skadden lawyers to explain why they should not be sanctioned for failing to cite a highly relevant (arguably dispositive) Seventh Circuit case when briefing a motion to dismiss. The judge also set “a status hearing in open court…. [at which the attorneys] are all directed to appear in person.”

The Skadden partners filed a contrite response. They apologized profusely to the court, explained why they viewed the Seventh Circuit as distinguishable, and argued that even though they erred, their conduct didn’t merit sanctions. They announced to the court that they had settled the case in question, with Skadden “contributing to the settlement amount in order to personally redress plaintiffs’ counsel for responding to the motion to dismiss.” (In a classy move, they also extracted their associate from under the bus, explaining that he played no substantive role in the briefing.)

Despite the apology and the settlement, the status hearing went forward as scheduled yesterday. What happened?

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On the transactional side, things seem to be going gangbusters for Skadden Arps. As we noted yesterday, the firm took the top spot in three separate rankings of 2012 M&A work. In 2011, a different firm sat atop each set of rankings, but in 2012, Skadden ruled them all.

On the litigation side, though, the new year has brought new headaches for Skadden. Earlier this month, a high-profile partner at the firm, along with another partner and an associate, got hit with a big benchslap. A federal judge issued an order to show cause, asking the Skadden lawyers to explain why they should not be sanctioned, and set “a status hearing in open court…. [at which the attorneys] are all directed to appear in person.” Ouch.

Skadden recently filed its response to the OSC. Let’s review the benchslap, then see what the Skadden lawyers had to say for themselves….

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When I worked at a law firm, I knew that lawyers’ responses to audit letters — in which the firm confirms to auditors the status of litigation pending against a client — were a massive waste of time.

Firm policy dictated that we would speak only pablum in response to audit letters. We would identify each case by name, court, and number; explain that a complaint had been filed; list the causes of action; say where we stood in discovery and whether a trial date had been set; and then say that we didn’t have a clue who would win. (If we thought that the client’s chance of losing was either “probable” or “remote,” we were required to say so. I’m not sure we ever saw such a case.)

Every once in a while, a junior associate would receive an audit letter and write a real response to it — analyzing the lawsuit, the tactics, and who would win. When the powers that be learned about that mistake, there’d be hell to pay: “How could you write those things? Didn’t you run this past an audit letter review partner? We don’t actually provide information in those responses, you fool! Never do this again!”

As a partner at a firm, I knew that responding to audit letters was an expensive nuisance: A full-time audit letter assistant cranked out first drafts of responses to the letters. (That’s all she did, eight hours per day, 52 weeks per year — honest.) The appropriate client relationship partner reviewed each draft. An “audit letter review partner” (I had the misfortune to be one of those for four or five years) took another pass at the thing. Only then — after the letter had been stripped of all content — did the response go out the door. That was an awful lot of time and money invested to insure that the firm didn’t accidentally say something.

But I always assumed that someone — the client, the auditors, someone — thought those ridiculous letters served a purpose. Now I’ve gone in-house, and it turns out that audit letters serve no purpose at all. . . .

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A few months ago, we wrote a story about the $160K-Plus Club: those law firms that pay their first-year associates more than $160,000 a year, the going rate within Biglaw. Earlier this week, we covered which cities give young lawyers the biggest bang for their buck — i.e., cities where the buying power of the median salary for that city is the greatest.

Let’s mash up these two stories. Today we bring you news of a law firm that (1) pays a starting salary of more than $160,000 and (2) is based in a city that’s in the top ten for buying power. Associates at this firm are — by our calculations, based on the NALP Buying Power Index — living as well as someone earning $414,000 in New York City. That’s a staggering sum for a first-year associate.

So which firm are we talking about? And are they hiring?

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